Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on Sunday invited his Colombian counterpart, Alvaro Uribe, to personally discuss the case of guerrilla leader Rodrigo Granda and try to end a diplomatic crisis.
"At the heart of this matter is the crime that was committed here. We can also talk about the rest, but at this time it's secondary," Chavez said during his weekly show.
The Venezuelan leader said the talks could take place immediately in Los Llanos de Barinas, since Uribe recently said he would like to see the area where Chavez was born and raised.
Chavez said he did not want to wait for a presidential summit to discuss the case because it was "an exclusively bilateral matter." The diplomatic crisis flared up over the arrest of the so-called "foreign minister" of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), Rodrigo Gonzalez, alias Rodrigo Granda.
According to the Colombian government, Granda was captured in the Colombian city of Cucuta, but Venezuela insists he was abducted in Caracas on Dec. 13 in violation of its sovereignty.
Colombian authorities paid a reward for the information that led to the guerrilla's arrest, Colombian Defense Minister Jorge Alberto Uribe admitted last week, touching off a political storm in Venezuela.
The diplomatic furor reached its peak last Friday when Chavez demanded a public apology from the Colombian government and called off all bilateral agreements. A few hours later, the Colombian government not only failed to apologize but in a communiqué reiterated that Granda was a terrorist and that his capture did not violate Venezuelan sovereignty.
Venezuelan Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel, meanwhile, insinuated that the Colombian defense minister was duplicitous with him during a visit last month, and he accused Bogota of promoting "the law of the jungle" in the region.
Rangel said comments by Colombian authorities amounted to an admission that Granda was "kidnapped" in Caracas, which has been Venezuela's position all along.
Colombia acknowledged last Wednesday that the "snatch" of Granda was effected by bounty hunters, insisting that Colombian officers only took custody of the rebel on the Colombian side of the border.
Rangel noted that this incident was not the first time Colombia had resorted to extralegal "shortcuts," citing the case of Colombian rebel Jose Maria Ballestas, rescued by police in March 2001 from abductors who were trying to smuggle him out of Venezuela and back to his homeland for trial. Caracas honored a subsequent request from Bogota to extradite Ballestas.
On Saturday, reports that Uribe and Chavez were willing to meet were hailed across the Colombian political spectrum.
The chairmen of the Liberal, Conservative and leftist Independent Democratic Pole parties all welcomed progress toward healing the rift between the countries, which share a 2,219-kilometer (1,380-mile) border.
Conservatives in both Venezuela and Colombia say Chavez is sympathetic to Marxist rebels who have been waging a 40-year-old civil war in Colombia.